How to leave a job on good terms


In the musical chairs of life, you may eventually leave your job for a better one. When you do so, you should try to leave your job as gracefully and smoothly as possible. Some tips to help you move on without messing up:

Don’t resign from your current job until you have received a final written agreement from your future employer (if you’re not retiring).

Within reason, try to set your start date on your new job far away enough to give yourself enough time to tie up loose ends on your current job, say your goodbyes, and complete activities discussed below—all of which may take longer than you anticipate. (If you’re leaving your job for a job at another federal agency, the hiring agency will probably want you to start at the beginning of a pay period.) Also, if possible, consider taking leave between jobs to enable you to start your new job refreshed and raring to go.

Resign in person to your boss and other managers before you tell colleagues about your imminent departure.

Thank everyone who provided references for you or helped you in any other ways land your new job. (Thank your references and other helpful associates for extending themselves for you even if they helped you apply for a job that you did not get.) An old fashioned hardcopy “thank you” card or—if appropriate—a small “thank you” gift will go a long way towards indelibly conveying your gratitude.

Research your agency’s exit procedures soon after announcing your departure. Beware that these procedures may require obtaining signoffs from many departments, which may take several days.

Carefully consider which projects you will realistically be able to complete in the time remaining before your departure and which ones you will have to leave unfinished. When you do so, remember that once you’re gone, you’re gone—meaning you will lose all control over your projects once you leave your job. If you really want a particular project completed in a certain way, you might have to finish it yourself to ensure that it is completed to your satisfaction. But if doing so would consume an excessive amount of your time, you might have to accept the reality that you will have to hand it off to someone else, no matter how much time and effort you have already devoted to it.

Prepare your unfinished projects to be transferred to your replacement. This may involve leaving for your replacement suggestions about “next steps” on your unfinished projects and other types of background materials that will help him get up to speed on relevant substantive issues and on logistical matters about your organization, such as its organizational chart.

If your replacement currently works within your organization, consider introducing him in person or via email to colleagues with whom he will frequently interact.

Double check that the HR offices of your current and future agencies are managing your transfer—and doing so according to the correct end and start dates.

Ask your current agency’s IT office if you can be given access to your email account after your departure, if you want such access.

Clear out your office space. Take copies of all electronic files and emails that you want to keep and delete personal information.

If you want to be particularly helpful to a certain colleague and subordinate who has been particularly helpful to you, tell his boss about his outstanding contributions.

Send a concise, positive goodbye email throughout your office at the end of your last day, if appropriate.

Update your resume to include your most recent professional achievements before you forget them. You will be sure to need them during your next job search.

Subdue negative feelings you may harbor about your employer during your final weeks on the job. If you have trouble doing so, remind yourself that the adage, “Success is the best revenge,” applies to you because you successfully landed a desirable new job.


About Author

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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